Hmong craftswomen |in Chiang Mai revive an ancient art for a brighter tomorrow

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

For the Hmong people of the North, keeping their traditional art of batik-making alive is a key to survival.

Each piece of cloth, coated in beeswax then dyed with an exquisite design, sells for between Bt1,500 and Bt1,800 at the Doi Pui community in Chiang Mai.

"It takes me at least one week to paint the pattern on each piece," Pra Fuangfukij-jakarn says.

Expertly drawing an intricate design on white cloth, this 58-year-old woman reveals that she has practised the art since the age of seven.

"Our ancestors have passed on the batik-making tradition to younger Hmong for generations. It's a useful money-spinner," Pra explains.

Switching from opium

The Hmong around Doi Pui used to grow opium poppies, says Pra. They switched to farming several decades ago after His Majesty the King visited the area and offered them advice and Bt200,000 to fund the development of their land.

"Since then, my family has grown fruits and vegetables. We've also promoted our village as an eco-tourism destination. That's when we began to focus more on the batik making."

Repertoire of designs

The local artisans have built up a repertoire of more than 100 designs.

"Beginners have to follow traditional patterns but more experienced craftswomen can create their own designs."

The patterns on the fabric are drawn using a small brush and liquid beeswax. The wax-painted fabric is then dipped into indigo dye. As the dye doesn't penetrate the wax, the pattern appears after the wax is removed.

"For a cloth of a metre and a half square, the whole task takes me 15 days," Pra explains.


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